November 26th, 2017

cass, can you not

*cringes*, but also *ponders*

Last night I watched ST:TNG S01E05: The Last Outpost pretty much by accident.

It was bad — more so than I remembered. The Omnipotent Judge Du Jour was paper-thin, but the problem was our first look at the Ferengis. They were almost comically craven, dishonest, incompetent, and cruel, with their (commendable alien, though) body language a mixture of high school symbolic theater self-parody and outright racism.

That sucks in a rather structural level, because the original idea was for the Ferengi to be the main antagonists of the Federation in TNG; done properly, it couldn't but have made economic issues as much a focus of the show as the tension between warfare and peace was (one of) the focus of TOS. But for that you need to treat the Ferengi and their culture the way the Klingons were treated, specially post-TOS: not what the Federation wants to be, but good at what they are, with an intrinsically valid civilization (at least in their own terms), and not to be trifled with.

So give me Ferengis that are actually negotiators so good that setting the technical parameters of a join development project is the equivalent of going hand-to-hand against a Klingon. Give me an economic war where the Ferengi, say, create a derivatives market of exotic art, forcing the Federation into a financial war they are ideologically ill-equipped to deal with, at least at the beginning. Make a Ferengi member of the crew negotiate with the Captain to have a salary, because his culture makes him feel uncomfortable using the replicator without paying for it. Make that crewmember's unique strengths be related to her or his culture.

I'm not saying the point of the series isn't, ultimately, an argument in favor of peaceful post-scarcity economies based on scientific exploration and shared resources being more enjoyable and generally good for the soul. But you can't fully make that point clear without a believable alternative, otherwise it's just lost in the background. Worf's Honor Thing being respected by the crew, in a way, emphasizes how much of a cultural choice it is: yes, yes, you can wrestle with your refrigerator for your breakfast if that helps you find meaning, or you can play the trombone, or, you know, whatever flows your boat, as long as you let others do the same.

We only got a respected Ferengi with Quark, but he's an exile — he's basically an ideological ambassador for Quark, not the Ferengi as such — and his conflict with Odo was within, not about, societal rules: cops and crooks in space, not Quark vs the Free To Use But What Happens When Everybody Wants To Do It At The Same Time Holodeck.